However, Fisher said transient scrap dealers from states as far away as Texas and Michigan bring trucks to West Virginia and buy scrap metal.
"The gypsy dealers are a lot harder to stop," he said. "It's very difficult to control."
Such transient dealers also buy platinum stripped from vehicles' catalytic converters, said Ruth Lemmon, director of the West Virginia Automobile and Truck Dealers Association.
Thieves have stolen catalytic converters from auto dealer lots, shopping centers, schools, and even from a hospice organization's parking lot. Lemmon has received reports of thefts in Parkersburg, St. Albans and Wheeling in recent months.
Thieves can remove a catalytic converter from a car or truck in as little as 40 seconds, she said.
"It's a very serious issue," Lemmon said Monday. "It's our belief that it's the gypsies who are buying them. I don't think it's the legitimate scrap dealers."
The new law requires scrap dealers to fingerprint anyone who sells five or more catalytic converters at the same time.
"It's not your established scrap yard that's buying this stuff," echoed Chris Bower, special agent with the CSX railroad police. "It's the smaller, back-door, mom-and-pop operations. These new scrap yards are springing up almost daily, and they know it's illegal to purchase stolen material."
The new law also is designed to make it more difficult for transient scrap dealers to operate in West Virginia.
The rules require operators to have a business license, a permit through the Department of Environmental Protection, a scales certificate with the Division of Labor Weights and Measures section, and a registration with the Secretary of State's office.
Some lawmakers questioned whether a drop in copper prices led to fewer thefts. Fisher and others said copper prices declined earlier this year, but have rebounded over the past three months -- at a time when thefts decreased significantly.
Reach Eric Eyre at erice...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.